It has been a year since Accord drafted Jeremy Duncombe in to take charge of intermediary distribution. He sits down with Gary Adams to talk about the story so far
“A broker answered on a survey that he would rather set himself on fire than use Accord. That was a real watershed moment for the group,” says a forthright Jeremy Duncombe. It is not the kind of thing you are used to hearing when conducting an interview, but with rebuilding a theme that comes up again and again – in the figurative and literal sense – it seems a good place to start things.
Duncombe has been in his current job for 12 months. Snapped up from Legal & General, where he had worked since 2013, he personifies the mortgage industry in almost all the forms it takes: starting with admin duties at Halifax, where he realised that he wanted to be a mortgage adviser, Duncombe did exactly that for L&G for four years. Seeing how business development managers worked inspired his next set of moves until he ended up as head of sales at Platform – a position he filled for a decade. From there it was a quick journey to head of sales at Santander for Intermediaries, then the aforementioned role at L&G.
“The one that stands out is the move to L&G to run the distributer there, to run the mortgage club, and now I feel I am back in the lending world, which is predominantly my career,” Duncombe says. “But those five years that I had at L&G were fantastic, I really enjoyed them and I learnt a huge amount, which I think I can now use back in the lending world. Understanding what brokers and lenders and distributors want has set me in good stead.”
The zest Duncombe has for the mortgage industry is clearly not put on for public relations purposes. He talks of the pleasure he took from sitting down with people and interacting with them on a deep level, seeing the joy they took in securing their first home. “It has always been something really close to my heart… becoming a broker is what made me realise that mortgages and intermediaries were my future,” he says.
After this brief trip through pastures old we return to more contemporary times – back to the broker who was tempted to self-ignite. “Our net promoter score at that point was minus 11. Accord pivoted from there. A huge amount of work took place to reposition the business,” Duncombe explains. “When I arrived, eight months into that work, there was a really good foundation in place thanks to the likes of Charles Canning, Dave Robinson and Mike Regnier and the marketing team.”
The proof is very much in the pudding. Said negative net promoter score has been pushed into positive territory to the tune of 79.
“This is down to a real change in culture, in how we work with people – and in our consistency,” Duncombe says. Consistency is a theme he warms to, saying: “Consistency of message. Consistency of service. Of going out and talking to people with good quality individuals, both on the sales side and our underwriters – and opening the latter to speak to brokers.”
On being asked what else contributed to this quick turnaround in reputation, Duncombe does not hesitate in saying it was not just about upping performance, but shouting about it, too.
He explains that, while the company was already in a much-improved position, “the key thing was working out how to let people know that we had changed, as opposed to assuming they already knew that was the case. That meant a lot more work around social media, our PR position and our marketing, to get some messages that really resonated with brokers and let people know what we stand for”.
Raising Accord’s profile does not begin and end outside its doors, either, Duncombe says. He speaks of how he was asked to talk up the lender’s profile internally. Being responsible for a huge amount of Yorkshire Building Society’s business, “it is important that colleagues understand how Accord fits into the group, how we do what we do, the types of people we deal with, and what support we need”.
He adds: “This involves working with various committees and other directors, the board and non-executive directors so that people who may have heard of Accord, but not be totally familiar with what we actually do, understand how important we are to the wider group.”
Asked what he is most proud of bringing to the firm, Duncombe asks if he can name two instead. On being given the affirmative, he says the first is teamwork. “I inherited a really good team, and I have been able to add to it. There is such a sense of camaraderie, it is something I am really proud of.” Pressed on this, Duncombe promotes autonomy. “I want to give my team the power to get on with making decisions and to ask for forgiveness later.”
Place of birth: Rotherham, Yorkshire
Hobbies: (Watching) sport, cooking and travelling. I love to cook – it is so relaxing
Signature dish: Black treacle fillet steak
Favourite band: The Killers
Book: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Favourite film: Mannequin – I have to say this now because it is already public knowledge
The second is what Accord has done with its growth series. Launched in November, this is a series of podcasts and other types of media that over 3,000 brokers have signed up to. The idea is to help brokers write more business and look at parts of the industry they are not currently involved in.
He says: “And it is certainly not talking about Accord at all. The series of talks are about areas of the market where they may be able to improve their business, such as how to recruit administrators or new advisers into the business, how to get more out of LinkedIn and social media, how to get further up search engine rankings, how to move on from being a local business to a national business. We have podcasts from various mortgage personalities, people who have got a view, and they talk about how they have developed their business and share their tips for people coming through.
“People have been very generous with their time. We have got some really good experts and great content in there, and brokers are coming back to us and saying it is helping them grow their business. It is how we support the broker. I am really proud of it.”
Accord has made much of how, since September, it has positioned itself as “a new build lender, not just a lender that does new build”. This has necessitated the deployment of resources into dedicated services such as day one valuations and a separate underwriting team – in other words, a significant commitment. It is no wonder, then, that our talk moves on to the future of housing in the UK, which Accord’s fortunes will naturally be wrapped up in. The Help to Buy scheme is an obvious place to start.
“It has been a resounding success,” Duncombe says.
He concedes that there are issues, but insists that when judged on its intention – to get people on to the housing ladder – there can be no argument that it has worked.
“It was right that it was revisited in the Budget,” he adds, “and I think that starting to adjust the scheme now, and moving towards a world where HTB doesn’t exist, again, feels like the right thing to do, but without it, we would be in a very different place in the market.
“As a country, despite all of the uncertainties going on at the moment, there are still fundamentals that apply – irrespective of what is going on in the wider economy. And that is that we live on a small island, we have more people on the island than we have had before, and not enough houses. Therefore, the law of supply and demand is still a central driver of the market, and there is nothing I can see that will change that. Therefore, we have still got this demand for houses.”
Current housing minister Kit Malthouse (he of the infamous compromise) has been touting a slogan recently: “More, better, faster.” It is supposed to capture the government’s attitude towards building homes, and a spate of recent announcements certainly make it appear as though construction is moving up the priority list in Westminster. Our conversation naturally drifts here. We talk of creative solutions to the supply issue hounding the UK housing market. Duncombe adds that while there are a lot of ideas being touted, it is important “to consider how the infrastructure links up. There is no point in building 10,000 homes if you have not got the schools or the roads that people need to get to work. That is all part of it”. He adds that infrastructure is the key to the recent growth seen in the north.
Technology is the future
As for the future of Accord, technology is very much the direction the company is looking in. Duncombe is excited about the upcoming launch of its online mortgage application platform, which the firm revealed is being developed by IRESS.
He says: “Technology, integration, that is very much something we are looking at. We are asking ourselves how we integrate, who with, how quickly, because this is the future of relationships between lenders and brokers and sourcing systems and distributors – and we want to be at the forefront of that.” He adds that the attitude towards technology from many has changed enormously over a very short period of time. “A year, 18 months ago, there was a lot of fear. We heard about how robo-advice would take jobs away, but that has changed. People realise now that there will always be a place for face-to-face business.” Technology, he adds, can be used as just another tool to make life easier.
When asked about the abundance of new technology systems being developed in the mortgage industry, and if there is room for so many, Duncombe is of the view that convergence is on the cards at some point. “It is great that there is so much competition,” he enthuses. “There is lots of innovation going on, and over time that will settle down, and we will understand who the main players are.
“I think the job for the industry and for us is to make sure we talk and work with as many partners as we can. There is no regulatory need for it, just normal market forces and competition that will allow things to evolve. In the future we will have a small number of more powerful players, but I do not see it as one or two dominating.”